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Europe's Airbus titanium policy won't fly

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 8/1/2022 Gregory Rohrbough
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Russian forces are deliberately destroying Ukraine’s cities and targeting civilians. Many of those who aren’t murdered are being relocated or deported. The rest of the world is taking note.

“The unlawful transfer and deportation of protected persons is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and is a war crime,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “Russian authorities must release those detained and allow Ukrainian citizens forcibly removed or coerced into leaving their country the ability to promptly and safely return home.”

Members of the European Union agree. Its latest round of sanctions “will introduce a new import ban on Russian gold, while reinforcing our dual use and advanced technology export controls. In doing so, it will reinforce the alignment of EU sanctions with those of our G7 partners. It will also strengthen reporting requirements to tighten EU asset freezes.”

In fact, virtually everyone is on board with sanctions, except for one company that your tax dollars have funded.

“Airbus, the world’s largest commercial plane maker, is still importing hefty amounts of titanium from one of the country’s biggest exporters,” the Wall Street Journal reported in June. “It has publicly called for the European Union to hold off imposing sanctions on the metal, which is used to manufacture critical components of its aircraft.”

Airbus’s position is that titanium sanctions “would hardly harm Russia, because they only account for a small part of export revenues there,” reported Reuters in April. The company spokesperson also said such sanctions “would massively damage the entire aerospace industry across Europe.”

That spokesperson is wrong. Yes, titanium is crucial because it is strong, flexible, and can be combined with other substances, such as carbon, to make strong but lightweight parts for airliners. Titanium is also rare, and Russia produces more of it than any other country.

But the more important the export is, the more important it is for everyone to agree to boycott it. If Russia were exporting widely available items such as seawater or limestone, then sanctions wouldn’t do any good. The world must agree to sanction important, expensive things exported by Russia — such as oil, caviar, and titanium — in order to make the sanctions bite.

Furthermore, Simple Flying reported earlier this year that there are “other markets from which [titanium] can be sourced, both from a raw material and finished product perspective,” such as South Africa, Australia, Canada, China, Norway, Sierra Leone, India, and Mozambique. And while Airbus is clearly hesitant to give up its Russian connections, other companies that rely on titanium have found other suppliers. General Electric, which makes jet engines, sources just 1% of its titanium from Russia.

It certainly isn’t news that the rest of the world is suffering by denying itself Russian supplies. High gas prices in the United States were exacerbated when Russian oil disappeared from the market, and that triggered a round of inflation that hasn’t ended yet, either here or in Europe. But consumers in the West are willingly paying more for just about everything in order to punish Russian aggression.

Companies, countries, and people can and have learned to live without Russian metals. Airbus needs to get with the international program and decide whether it wants to be a partner in the international community … or a mercenary, willing to hire itself out to the highest bidder. And if it’s a mercenary, then Americans may question whether we want our tax dollars going to Airbus, which is using its customers’ money to fund the Russian war machine. Airbus may want Russian metal because it’s cheap, but the public, politicians, and companies are standing behind Ukraine and against Russia.

Airbus needs to choose a side and choose wisely, or it may lose access to something even more valuable than titanium — the sales in Europe and America, which keep the company alive.

Gregory D. Rohrbough, J.D., is a former small business lobbyist.


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